I like Michael Voris, but I’m beginning to wonder: is he being incredibly coy about Pope Francis or just incredibly wooden? Is he resisting with all his filial might to avoid criticizing the Pope, or is he being compelled, for internal or external reasons, to carry soft-ultramontanist water?
As I noted in (the bottom portion of) part 2 of “The Battle Within”, the compaints in his video, “Double Vision” (16 Oct 2013), which Voris lodges against an increasingly pervasive human-centric Catholicism, have the uncanny potential to be lobbed against many of the things Pope Francis is on record as saying. The marginalization of “the pelvic issues” in favor of “mercy,” the emphasis on smiles and joy, the (as I call it, hyper-Marthan) priority of The People And Their Needs, and the scrupulous avoidance of references to Hell–Voris rails against these things, yet he seems oblivious to–or simply unwilling to observe–the fact that the Pope does quite the opposite.
In the video titled “Distortions of the Truth” (15 Oct 2013), Voris lambasts Julie Sullivan, the new president of the University of St. Thomas University in St. Paul, Minnesota, not only for undermining Catholic teaching but also for insinuating that she’s just following Pope Francis’s example with her comments. This Twin Cities Pioneer Press article goes into much greater detail about the context of the speech at UST in St. Paul, but Voris’s treatment in the video should suffice to make my point. Voris targets the following statements from Sullivan:
“We are called to love and support everyone in our community regardless of their sexual orientation…. And, I might add, regardless of the gender of their spouse.”
He then seems even more worked up than normal as he vehemently denies that any of the Pope’s “reported words” could be understood in any way at all to support Sullivan’s statements. Yet, the “reported” words of Francis which I think Sullivan and Voris have in mind are, surprise surprise, on the Vatican website as official papal speeches (in-flight from Brazil, 28 July 2013; to Spadaro, 19 Sep 2013). Once Voris implicitly grants that they really are the Pope’s words, his proceeding analysis blows up in his face for several reasons.
Let me pause here to note an irony: I don’t think what Sullivan said is controversial. I mean, do we expect a Catholic university to denigrate and persecute homosexuals? Of course not. It’s a basic requirement of Catholic teaching to treat all people with love and respect as persons made in God’s image. As I like to say, hewing close to orthodoxy gets you the nutrients you need with all the manners that others expect, while deviating from Catholic truth spirals off into either provincial fundamentalism or an intellectual sugar dependency. To wit, Fr. Rodriguez shows the perfect integration of evangelical love and moral truth in Catholicism when he discusses the four cardinal points of the Church’s teaching on same-sex attraction.
Now, if I can see how uncontroversial Sullivan’s words are, at least prima facie, then surely Voris can, too.
Aye, but there’s the rub.
Voris knows not to treat Sullivan’s words with their prima facie meaning. He knows the way progressive Catholics work, and the rest of the video is an explication of the insidious manipulation of language practiced by Catholic progressives. As I say, though, the analysis only underscores how daft, or stoically coy, Voris is being.
For starters, he subtly alters what Sullivan said in order to put as much light as he can between her and the Pope. Sullivan said we must “support” homosexuals, but Voris retorts that “the Holy Father never said we should give approval to same-sex marriage,” and adds a prolix, ten-second denial that the Holy Father could possibly be construed to have even hinted at such an idea.
Here’s the famous Spadaro excerpt again:
I used to receive letters from [implicitly active] homosexual persons who are ‘socially wounded’ because they tell me that they feel like the church has always condemned them [for living an active homosexual lifestyle]. But the church does not want to do this. [Uhhhm?] … [I]f a homosexual person is of good will [?] and is in search of God, I am no one to judge. … Religion has the right to express its opinion in the service of the people, but … it is not possible to interfere spiritually in the life of a person.
As I’ve argued before, it the above point is cogent, it should work for any case, e.g. “If a greedy, deceitful, adulterous, and homicidal person is of good will and is in search of God”–hold on right there. What traditionally catechized child does not know that certain acts objectively and intrinsically disqualify a person from being a person of good will, and which objectively and intrinsically make one an enemy of God? “Our Pope is our cross,” as one helpful blog commenter puts it.
“A person once asked me, in a provocative manner, if I approved of homosexuality. I replied with another question: ‘Tell me: when God looks at a gay person, does he endorse the existence of this person with love, or reject and condemn this person?’ We must always consider the person. … In life, God accompanies persons, and we must accompany them, starting from their situation. It is necessary to accompany them with mercy.”
Say what you will about the cogency of the Pope’s remarks on homosexuality–and I think they’re comically specious–, Sullivan is hardly “spinning” his remarks when she says, “We are called to love and support everyone in our community regardless of their sexual orientation”. Indeed, we can condense the Pope’s remarks to the following dicta:
“[Gays] feel like the church has always condemned them … [but neither I nor] the church … want to do this. … [I]f a homosexual person is of good will and is in search of God, I am no one to judge [or, condemn]. … [When asked] if I approved of homosexuality… [I asked], does [God] endorse … this person with love, or reject and condemn this person?’”
For whatever reason, though, Voris suffers cognitive-dissonance breakdown at these plain rhetorical parallels.
He then argues that Sullivan is practicing linguistic subterfuge by conflating love and support with acceptance and toleration. Yet, as noted, the Pope emphasized that, like God, “we must accompany [homosexual persons], starting from their situation. It is necessary to accompany them with mercy.” In other words, the Pope argues, we must accept people where and how we find them, and then go from there. Further, during the in-flight interview, the Pope dodged the chance to say in plain language that, no, he does not “approve of homosexuality,” opting instead to forge a cutesy-wootsy rhetorical question–Does God reject and condemn the sheer existence of a gay person?–which plainly demands a negation: “No, God accepts and does not judge a gay person.”
Immediately after blasting Sullivan for conflating love with toleration, he reminds us of the Church’s inviolable and clear teaching on the intrinsically disordered, objectively evil, and therefore always condemned nature of homosexual acts. Once more, we’re left facing the dilemma of doing the Pope’s job for him or for pointing out his rhetorical sins of ommission and being tarred as Pharisees, defectors, bedwetters, and the like.
That’s all surreal enough, but then, me droogy-woogies, we viddy things privodeet somewhere ultra gloopy. (In other words, things get really weird.)
Next, Voris tells Sullivan to “shut up” with her “nice-sounding platitudes and double-speak” about the deep respect she has for “the Catholic Church as a vibrant and living institution” and the “special” role Catholic universities play as loci of free inquiry and robust dialogue.” Voris argues that the problem with “Judas Catholics” like Sullivan is that “they use ‘Catholic terms’ and ‘Catholic words’ and let the masses hear what the masses want to hear, but all the while they know… what they… mean and intend is something entirely different from what the msases understood.” Regardless what words Sullivan, and other post-dogmatic, inclusivist Catholics use, they intend to “challeng[e] Church teaching whenever the opportunity arises.”
Naturally, opportunities for leveling progressive challenges to Church teaching will present themselves much less often to a Pope than to a Catholic university president, but the dynamic is the same. And I’m not being snarky in the least. Pope Francis has gone on record numerous times denigrating dogmatic certainty, doctrinal security, and Catholic triumphalism, and in doing so, he is challenging Catholic teaching as a fixed and absolute norm. Significantly, the Pope echoes Sullivan by describing the Church and Her intelelctual tradition as a vibrant and living institution:
“St Vincent of Lerins makes a comparison between the biological development of man and the transmission from one era to another of the deposit of faith, which grows and is strengthened with time. … Exegetes and theologians help the church to mature in her own judgment. Even the other sciences and their development help the church in its growth in understanding. There are ecclesiastical rules and precepts that were once effective, but now they have lost value or meaning. The view of the church’s teaching as a monolith to defend without nuance or different understandings is wrong.”
Given the Pope’s Hegelian-Whiteheadian metaphysical predilection, his fixation on growth, change, evolution and organismic adaptation makes perfect sense. Indeed, only a few paragraphs prior to his remakrs about St. Vincent Lerins in the Spdaro interview, we read:
“There is always the lurking danger of living in a laboratory. Ours is not a ‘lab faith,’ but a ‘journey faith,’ a historical faith. God has revealed himself as history [Hegel!], not as a compendium of abstract truths. I am afraid of laboratories because in the laboratory you take the problems and then you bring them home to tame them, to paint them, out of their context. You cannot bring home the frontier, but you have to live on the border and be audacious.”
I am aware that the Pope closes that lab-analogy with a reference to “the Gospel’s timeless meaning,” but that is very far removed from admitting that the Church has any other timeless teachings which align with and infallibly stem from “the Gospel” (paging Dr. Barth, paging Dr. Barth…). The Pope’s biblicist platitude provides no principle for delimiting how severely this “humble,” anti-Counter-Reformation Pope intends to prune the hedge of Catholic Tradition in order to salvage the Gospel’s timeless meaning (defined by whom, of course?). Indeed, the aspersions he casts on “ecclesiastical rules and precepts that were once effective, but now … have lost value or meaning”, coupled with his reference to “the [anti-clerical, materially poor] Church that Jesus and his disciples preached” (cf. Scalfari) and his hankering for base-community style fellowship, all combine for a volatile and distinctly Protestantoid concoction.
But let’s get back to Voris before the rest of my hair turns white.
He kicked the Vortex into high gear in response to Sullivan’s bromide about “free inquiry and robust dialogue” at Catholic universities. “Beware,” Voris insists, “every time that word ‘dialogue’ comes up.” He continues:
“It always bears special scrutiny, because it is a cover word; meaning, it doesn’t mean what it’s being pretended to mean. Dialogue, in the environment of Catholic academics, means … endless chatter and wordsmithing to reach a pre-determined end of denying a Church teaching.”
Does it really need to be mentioned that Pope Francis seems more given to “endless chatter” (off the cuff, of course) than any other Pope you or I can think of?
Which brings me to the crux of my dilemma: is Voris being disingenuously deferential to the Pope qua Vicar of Christ and, as the Italians say, speaking to the wife so that the mother-in-law hears, or is he genuinely deaf to how close his mortar fire comes to blasting Pope Francis? If the latter, it sounds like Voris has not been taking enough Vitamin F1 lately. Here, in the interest of his rational health, are some papal supplements from the Pope’s “reported” words:
[Spadaro asks] the pope why he is so impressed by Faber. “[His] dialogue with all,” the pope says, “even the most remote and even with his opponents; his simple piety, a certain naïveté perhaps, his being available straightaway, his careful interior discernment, the fact that he was a man capable of great and strong decisions but also capable of being so gentle and loving.”
“When the dialogue among the people and the bishops and the pope goes down this road and is genuine, then it is assisted by the Holy Spirit. So this thinking with the church does not concern theologians only.”
“The ministers of the Gospel must be people who can warm the hearts of the people, who walk through the dark night with them, who know how to dialogue and to descend themselves into their people’s night, into the darkness, but without getting lost.”
During a visit by the fathers and staff of La Civiltà Cattolica, the pope had spoken about the importance of the triad “dialogue, discernment, frontier.” And he insisted particularly on the last point, citing Paul VI and what he had said in a famous speech about the Jesuits: “Wherever in the church — even in the most difficult and extreme fields, in the crossroads of ideologies, in the social trenches — there has been and is now conversation [or, dialogue] between the deepest desires of human beings and the perennial message of the Gospel, Jesuits have been and are there.”
“Francis wanted a mendicant and itinerant Order. He wanted missionaries in search of an encounter, seeking to listen, to dialogue, to help, to spread faith and love. Especially love.” (to Scalfari)
“The Council Fathers knew that opening up to modern culture would mean religious ecumenism and dialogue with non-believers. Subsequently, however, little was done in that regard. I have the humility and ambition to want to do it”. (to Scalfari)
(Scalfari to Francis): “We who are non-believers also feel this quasi anthropological unease. This is why we want to dialogue with believers and with those who represent them best.”
(Francis to Scalfari): “I don’t know if I am their best representative, but … I will do all in my power to fulfil the mandate. … We’ve taken a step forward in our dialogue.”
+ + +
As always, I realize that I come off looking smaller than the Pope, sounding less secure in my faith, more judgmental, less loving, and all the other soft-ultramontanist slurs. So, for the nth time, let me clarify something: I am not firebranding the Pope as a heretic; I am simply trying to synthesize the vast array of complex and often contradictory evidence about the man Bergoglio who was elected Pope into a complete theory in order to explain the enigma of how this otherwise passionately orthodox Pope can emit such recklessly scandalous and “proggy-sounding” bromides. Nearly every single time I sit to write about these issues, I begin with a prayer for Pope Francis on a prayer candle I bought. He is my Pope; but, as the post I tried to complete last night will explain, he is also often my cross. In fact, I am all but convinced that he is intentionally, but obliquely and casuistically, fomenting oppositon from conservatives like myself. I’ll leave that point aside for now and let last night’s almost-completed post speak for me when the time comes.
Meanwhile, aren’t you lucky that I’ve recently discovered a new “key” to unlocking the enigma of Pope Francis. Well, actually, it’s just another notch in the key that I have called the Pope’s penchant for mystical mystification, and I think it actually, charitably accounts for the ability of Francis to create the kind of spectacular cognitive dissonance evident in Voris’s “Distortion” video.
The pope is not a heretic, but I think he is willfully sowing confusion in order to foment–wait for it–the ever blessed good of DIALOGUE. Voris thinks that “dialogue” is a cover word for progressive dissent (and I agree with him), yet Voris also sees that Pope Francis is very orthodox when he’s preaching in the right contexts, so the cognitive dissonance won’t allow him to admit that Francis might very well fall under the same heading as a double-speaking “Judas Catholic,” at least if his critique of Sullivan is to retain any integrity. Voris’s problem is that he thinks “dialogue” serves the same function as progressives do, namely, to create enough wiggle room now that dissent later won’t look so bad, or at least won’t be so flagrant. What Voris does not understand about Francis, however, is that Francis disagrees with both progressives and traditionalists that “dialogue” is a tool for resisting orthodoxy. Rather (and I admit this is pretty mind-bending… maybe even a little mystical, hmm?) Pope Francis genuinely believes that the uncertainty of dialogue, the non-dogmatic openness of a “journey faith” towards a boundless but unreachable horizon, is in fact the best way to enrich and develop orthodoxy.
I know this post is already quite long, so let me try to unpack the above paragraph as briefly as I can.
A) The Pope’s neo-Jesuit formation has led him to believe that a Christocentric dialogue–a committed uncertainty, a fallible wandering, a dogmatic openness–even if “endless”, is the true calling of the Holy Spirit for the Church.
B) As grotesque as his words and actions may strike some of us, I suspect that Francis is not, in his mind, trying to undermine orthodoxy by ridiculing triumphalism, conversion, moralism and dogmatism; rather, he is, in his understanding, at least, trying to “broaden the range” of orthodoxy’s historical applicability and pluralistic relevance.
C) He cannot, however, simply vault the river; he must drift in the vast stream of traditional rhetoric and piety in order, patiently, as-slowly-as-leaven, bring the Church even farther from its primitive, esoteric kerygma towards a post-Catholic, universalist spiritual dialogue which, however, always includes Jesus as the personalist icon par excellence. He’s a Process-Pope, as he explained to Spadaro:
“God manifests himself in historical revelation, in history. Time initiates processes, and space crystallises them. God is in history, in the processes. We must not focus on occupying the spaces where power is exercised, but rather on starting long-run historical processes. We must initiate processes rather than occupy spaces. God manifests himself in time and is present in the processes of history. This gives priority to actions that give birth to new historical dynamics. And it requires patience, waiting.”
The Pope betrays another of his characteristic contradictions, in that, while he castigates “disciplinarian” solutions and using “spaces” of power, yet he vows to do everything in his “power” to fulfil his mandate, and “as the Pope of the Catholic world” has the “humility and ambition” to do what past popes failed to achieve. As a Process thinker, Francis instinctively rejects trying to leap into the future in defiance of his concrete historical limitations; hence his fixation with leaven, patience, process, change, hope, etc. Despite his hardline, disciplinarian streak (which he renounced, after being head of the Jesuit province in Argentina, in favor of “humility”), he is committed to the slow, subtle process of deligitimizing orthodoxy without ever explicitly denying it, in order that a more liquid Catholicism would drift into the open sea of ecumenism and “dialogue.” Meanwhile, he relies on solidly orthodox rhetoric to guide his faith and his sheep. He may, therefore, be likened to the (Tractatus) Wittgenstein of Catholicism. Consider the penultimate lines of the Tractatus:
“6.54 My propositions serve as elucidations in the following way: anyone who understands me eventually recognizes them as nonsensical, when he has used them – as steps – to climb up beyond them. (He must, so to speak, throw away the ladder after he has climbed up it.) He must transcend these propositions, and then he will see the world aright.”
And now replace “propositions” with homilies, recall Francis’s description of conversion as “nonsense”, and remind yourself that Francis has a strongly Hegelian bent of thought. He may secretly view the Church’s customs and garments and non-inclusivist language as “nonsensical”, but, as a pragmatist, he at least recognizes the need of relying on such devices in order to climb up (or sublimate/transcend) to a new level and thus see God aright. Not to do so would be to reject the horizon, sought by countless paths, in favor of our ‘ideological’ position of power and certainty.
[Since you probably didn’t look, the link I provided about Whiteheadian organismic ideas was headed by a quotation from one of my favorite authors, the Argentine Nobel-laureate, Jorge Luis Borges. And… yes… the Argentine Jesuit, Jorge Mario Bergoglio taught literature for a while in his younger days. Hence, in a mad grab for yet another moniker for the Pope, I, Bougis, have a hunch that Bergoglio was impacted deeply enough by Borges (a modernist) that the latter’s famous parable of the garden of forking paths shows up in the Pope’s speech, like, say… “The world is full of streets that converge and diverge; the important thing is that they lead to the Good.” Could that labyrinthine garden be the image the Pope has of the paths we each take towards God, and of the ultimate convergence of all religions on the God beyond any one religion? Hard to prove, but I think I’m right: Pope Francis is the Borgesian Pope of Infinite New Paths instead of the cleric of YE OLDE TRVTH.]
That slow process of sublimating conventional orthodoxy signs and words into their higher meaning and value is likely what Francis means by the Jesuits as “leaven”. Since I am convinced that “leaven”–qua metaphor for Ignatian mysticism and transformation-via-sheer-presence–is one of the fundamental concepts guiding Francis’s papacy, let me reproduce instances of it in his interview with Scalfari.
[Oh, and I do apologize for the repetitiveness of many quotations from post to post, or even within the same post. I am convinced that the Pope’s theological vision is so complex and ‘criss-crossed’ that it can only be unraveled like a knot: handled repeatedly over the same prominent contours until it loosens itself.]
“[Agape] is love for others, as our Lord preached. It is not proselytism, it is love. Love for one’s neighbour, the leaven which serves the common good”. …
“The Jesuits were and still are a leaven — not the only one but perhaps the most effective — of catholicity: through culture, teaching, missionary witness, loyalty to the Pope. But Ignatius, who founded the Society, was also a reformer and a mystic, especially a mystic”. …
“I think that being a minority is actually a strength. We must be a leaven of life and love, and leaven is of an infinitely smaller quantity than the mass of fruit, flowers and trees that are born from that leaven. I think I said before that our objective is not to proselytise but to listen to needs, aspirations, disappointments, desperation and hopes. We must restore hope to the young, help the elderly, open up to the future and spread love. To be poor among the poor. We must include the excluded and preach peace. Vatican II, inspired by John XXIII and Paul VI, decided to look to the future with a modern spirit and to open up to modern culture. The Council Fathers knew that opening up to modern culture would mean religious ecumenism and dialogue with non-believers. Subsequently, however, little was done in that regard. I have the humility and ambition to want to do it”.
The Pope is not being disingenuous when he speaks aboutt the angels, demons, saints and sacraments among the faithful; he’s just using such flotsam and jetsam as the means to accompany The People and attract them out of a closed, ascetical-instructive, hierarchical, distinctly Catholic Church towards the infinite shore of the journey with Pastor Jesus. To wit, recall the following key points he made to Spadaro:
The Society of Jesus can be described only in narrative form. Only in narrative form do you discern, not in a philosophical or theological explanation, which allows you rather to discuss. The style of the Society is … [shaped] by discernment, which of course presupposes discussion as part of the process. The mystical dimension of discernment never defines its edges and does not complete the thought. The Jesuit [and, presumably, the Church led by a Jesuit Pope] must be a person whose thought is incomplete, in the sense of open-ended thinking. There have been [distorted] periods in the Society in which Jesuits have lived in an environment of closed and rigid thought, more instructive-ascetic than mystical….
“[A]s Archbishop of Buenos Aires, I had a meeting with the six auxiliary bishops every two weeks, and several times a year with the council of priests. They asked questions and we opened the floor for discussion. This greatly helped me to make the best decisions. But now I hear some people tell me: ‘Do not consult too much, and decide by yourself.’ Instead, I believe that consultation is very important.” …
“Instead of being just a church that welcomes and receives by keeping the doors open, let us try also to be a church that finds new roads, that is able to step outside [or, transcend?] itself ….
“Ignatius asks us to open our spiritual sensitivity to encounter God beyond a purely empirical approach. A contemplative attitude is necessary: it is the feeling that you are moving along the good path of understanding and affection toward things and situations.” …
“The great leaders of the people of God, like Moses, have always left room for doubt. You must leave room for the Lord, not for our certainties; we must be humble. Uncertainty is in every true discernment that is open to finding confirmation in spiritual consolation. The risk in seeking and finding God in all things, then, is the willingness to explain too much, to say with human certainty and arrogance: ‘God is here.’ We will find only a god that fits our measure. The correct attitude is that of St Augustine: seek God to find him, and find God to keep searching for God forever. … Our life is not given to us like an opera libretto, in which all is written down; but it means going, walking, doing, searching, seeing…. We must enter into the adventure of the quest for meeting God; we must let God search and encounter us.” …
“If the Christian is a restorationist, a legalist, if he wants everything clear and safe, then he will find nothing. Tradition and memory of the past must help us to have the courage to open up new areas to God.”
You get the idea. If not, you can peruse the very frequent occurrence of “dialogue” in the Holy Father’s complete public messages. What would Voris say about all those “cover words”?
As a Jesuit, Pope Francis values discernment, which includes discussion as part of the process, above almost anything else, and therefore he is intentionally trying to sow enough confusion and “debate” in the Church in order that the faithful will enter a state of perpetual discernment, free from ‘security’, free from walls and ‘closed doors’, free from ‘ideology’. Traditionally, discernment is a corrective measure for resolving doubts and making fixed decisions. I believe that Pope Francis, by contrast, values it so highly that discernment is a normative condition in his theology of “encounter.”
To conservatives, who tend to want orthodoxy to be nailed down with as many infallible dogmas as are fit to print, and to progressives who tend to want orthodoxy as we know it to be rescinded or shrunken–to both ends of the spectrum of Catholics fighting for TRVTH, Pope Francis says, “A pox on both your houses; there is no truth apart from the endless dialectical (i.e. diaological) quest of seeking Jesus in the encounter of the other.”
And so it seems that my diagnosis of Pope Francis as the first anti-Counter-Reformation Pope was too modest: he is the first anti-Constantinian Pope. Why else does he disorient progressives and conservatives to almost equal degrees? It has long been a guiding principle for the Church, even before St. Augustine captured it in an epigram, that “our hearts, O Lord, are restless until they find You,” and both progressives and conservatives would embrace that principle. In radical contrast, Francis is trying to sublimate the ideological clash between the thesis of conservatism and the antithesis of progressivism, in order to achieve a new, higher synthesis, whereby he may infuse a new spiritual DNA into the Body of Christ, so that the world may say with him, “Our hearts, O Lord, are restless because they find You.” Yet, once more, in Francis’s mind, this ‘new’ synthesis is just the “old time Gospel” delivered from the burial shrouds of traditional orthodoxy. How presciently, then, did Scalfari speak at the end of his interview: “This is Pope Francis. If the Church becomes what he imagines and desires, it will mean the changing of an era.”
Even though I believe my above analysis of Pope Francis as the first anti-Constantinian Pope, and as a neo-Jesuit promulgator of the post-orthodox quest for endless encounter and dialogue, best explains the character of his papacy, I hope it goes without saying that I think his theology of normative discernment is utter madness. Moreover, it is the most charitable effort I can make to reconcile the Pope’s “orthodox Alzheimer’s” with his “heterodox Tourette’s”.